Galanthus phyto requirements

Jim McKenney
Sun, 27 Jan 2008 15:21:37 PST
I reading John Grimshaw's comments on storage of dormant Galanthus bulbs, I
notice something which might have been insignificant to him yet might have
some importance to us (i.e. those of us here in eastern North America). 

John argues that snowdrop bulbs should be fine in dry storage if they are
kept cool and dry.

During the bad old days when collected bulbs regularly appeared in the local
garden centers, Galanthus plantings always gave irregular first year
results. Some bulbs simply didn't grow at all; some grew but only haltingly
and without blooming; and some never missed a beat, grew and bloomed. 

Generally speaking, the ones which grew and bloomed were forms of Galanthus
elwesii and related forms. 

And again generally speaking the ones which grew haltingly and didn't bloom
well often turned out to be Galanthus nivalis or related forms.

Furthermore, the commonly marketed double-flowered form of Galanthus nivalis
behaved no better than the typical form - and if it bloomed the first year
the flowers were generally small and not full. 

Two years ago, with the permission of the site manager, I dug a thick clump
of a double-flowered Galanthus nivalis (growing in the mud by the way)
naturalized at a local estate. These plants had the best, fullest double
flowers I had ever seen in this plant. After the foliage died down, the
bulbs were stored in the clod of soil in which they were dug; they were
placed in a cold frame in the rain shadow of the house. They were dry all
summer, but they were also hot. The bulbs were planted in the garden in the
fall, but the first year results were disappointing: for one thing, the
clump didn't seem to be very thick. And for another, few of the plants
bloomed. Also, and this is the part which really disappointed me, the few
flowers formed were malformed and not at all what I expected. Last year they
were a bit better. 

Local retail shops sometimes sell what I believe is Galanthus woronowii:
this one too performs badly from dry bulbs. 

Open to question is the cause of all of this. I've always assumed that it
was because the bulbs were kept too dry. But John's comments make me wonder
if in addition to being dry the bulbs were kept too warm. It's hard to avoid
that in our climate. 

Last summer, an unusually hot and dry one for us, seems to have cooked one
or two of my Fritillaria: when I checked in mid-summer, all I could find
were mummies: dry shriveled things with no sign of rot. The same happened
with Galanthus reginae-olgae and one of the Erythronium, too. 

I'm still finessing this business of summer moisture for dormant bulbs.
Under my conditions, dryer seems better than moister for many otherwise
difficult bulbs. Common sense should have told me that no Galanthus or
Erythronium needs the Kalahari treatment: live and learn. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the protected cold
frame has been wide open all day. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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